disney, you've come so far.

Hello everyone! Apologies for not writing in so long, I've been really caught up with school and other such things. I hope you guys all had a great Christmas and hopefully you'll all have an amazing New Year. Dubai is planning to break the world record for fireworks displays by having a 45-minute fireworks show at landmarks across the city. It's going to be very pretty, but also very smoky and foggy the next morning...

Anyway, on the 11th of December, I got to go and see 'Saving Mr. Banks' with my friend Ciara at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) an entire week before general release. 'Saving Mr. Banks' is an emotional roller-coaster of a movie that is about the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, and how she reflects on her tragic childhood during meetings with Walt Disney regarding the adaptation of her novel. It depicts Disney studios during the late 1950's to early 1960's and really is a must-watch. Another recently released Disney movie that I watched was Frozen, the latest addition to the Disney princess series. Together, these two movies got me thinking about how much Disney has evolved since it started. I will warn you now: this post contains major spoilers for Frozen, so if you haven't seen the movie, I suggest you stop reading now.

Concept art for Anna from Frozen

If you're still reading, I'll assume that you've watched the movie. Frozen really broke the norm for Disney princess movies, and it did this in several ways. First, the prince. In early Disney movies, most notably Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the princess had no trouble or second thoughts about marrying a man she had just met. While that might have been fine at the time, it may not send the right message to young girls today, as you now can't completely trust someone who you've only recently met. Frozen communicates this- Anna gets engaged to Hans, a prince from a nearby kingdom, on the night that they meet and she is sure it's true love. As it turns out, all he wants is to steal her crown. Clearly, that engagement didn't turn out so well.

Frozen also helped to show that over the years, Disney's female characters have become more independent. If you look at the three classics again-  Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, you'll notice that the women are all reliant on their prince. Snow can only defeat her evil stepmother with the help of her prince, Cinderella can only escape her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters by getting married to the prince, and Aurora can only be saved from Maleficent's sleeping curse through a kiss from a prince. The men are constantly coming to save them. This trend continued into a few of the more modern Disney films, such as The Little Mermaid, where Eric is the one who needs to give Ariel her voice back. 
Screencap from Sleeping Beauty
However, it does start to change. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is intelligent and brave, and instead of the Beast saving her, she saves the Beast. It's the same thing in Tangled- Rapunzel saves Flynn. Mulan is the toughest of all Disney protagonists- she doesn't get married, defends China against the Huns and instead of the men saving her, she saves all the men. And of course, we have to look at Merida from Brave, who saves her kingdom single-handedly. In Frozen, Kristoff may have rushed to save Anna from freezing solid, but in the end, it's her sister, Elsa, who saves her. 

Frozen proves to audiences that it is possible to save yourself, rather than to wait for some prince to come and save you. And like Brave, it shows the importance of family relationships. Merida's relationship with her mother was a key part of the main storyline in Brave and in Frozen, the relationship between Anna and Elsa was at the forefront of the movie.

Screencap from Brave
In conclusion, Disney princesses always have been and will always continue to be role models for young girls. It is important, therefore, that these characters communicate the right message. As Walt Disney once said: "movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood."


time and space, you watch us run.


To celebrate, I decided to harness my editing skills (because I so totally have editing skills) and create a tribute to my favourite series of Doctor Who- series 6 of the 2005 reboot. This particular series was perfect for a number of reasons- it presented us with a perfectly timey-wimey mystery, elaborated on the idea that 'silence will fall when the question is asked', and gave us the intriguing backstory of River Song. It also helps that the 11th Doctor is my favourite doctor and the Ponds are my favourite companions. What's not to love? 

Doctor Who will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of the best sci-fi shows of all time. When people ask what it's about, it can be simply described as a show about a man who can fly through time and space in a box called the TARDIS. But it's more than that. Doctor Who is about compassion, love, sacrifice, power, empathy and so many other wonderful things. 

Here's to another 50 years of Doctor Who! 


whoever controls the media controls the mind

Hello everyone!  I'm so sorry for not writing in such a long time- I've been really caught up with school work, SAT preparation and work for various extra curricular activities. Blegh. However, I did have some really exciting moments over the last month. I turned 15, got accepted as a student officer for THIMUN Hague (are any of you guys going?) and even dressed up as River Song for Hallowe'en. Fun stuff. Anyway, I'm not here to talk about my life right now. Today's post is centered around a simple and often discussed topic: messages from the media.

The media dominates our lives. It's everywhere - In our homes, at school, on the roads. Media reaches us through several different forms, from television, to the Internet, to the billboards we see on the highway and the advertisements on taxis and sometimes the stickers on cars. Wherever we look, we're being convinced to buy a certain product because it will make us more beautiful/intelligent/attractive to men or women/etc. However, many of the ideas conveyed by the media are negative and self-deprecating. The fact that we're constantly being bombarded with these messages means that the negativity is very, very hard to ignore.

One of the largest problems with mass media is the message that it sends regarding our body images. The women and men that you see in the media always fit exactly the same criteria: skinny, fair-skinned, glossy hair, and golden ratio facial features. This is not an accurate representation of humans. We're all of different shapes and sizes. We all have different skin tones, different hair types and different features. But the media tells us that only a select should be considered beautiful. They sell us products that they claim will help us become their definition of beautiful, such as the skin-whitening creams mentioned in my last post. Those of us who don't fit this criteria often suffer from a warped self image that drives some of us to develop life-threatening diseases, such as bulimia and depression just because they don't look a certain way. I've previously talked about that over here.

There are several other issues that plague the media. It contains a huge amount of glorified violence and abusive behaviour. Seeing violence in the media has negative, long-term effects on us: it causes us to become desensitised, meaning that we become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. We may become more fearful about the world around us, or be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways to others. Cultural stereotypes are prominent in the media, diminishing the richness of human diversity. The media also peddles gender stereotypes, differentiating products for young children through colours and labels, convincing them that the genders are completely different and they both require completely different items.

Messages from the media influence how we think. Mass media can be considered a shared system of knowledge, one that largely affects our mindset. It can affect how we feel about ourselves, how we interact with others and most importantly, our beliefs and values. Historically, beliefs and values are learnt through local communities. They are taught by family members, educational systems, cultural groups and our own balanced judgment. While we continue to learn much from those in our community circles, our values about what is 'right', 'true' or 'beautiful' are greatly influenced by the media. If something is depicted as positive in the mass media, then we tend to accept it, no matter how negative our balanced judgment or previous knowledge tells us that it is. 

Although right now, messages in the media are mostly negative, we can use it to do good. If the media influences the accepted norms around us, we should be able to use it in order to make sure that those norms are realistic. For example, H&M recently released an advertising campaign for their latest swimsuit line, where they used a plus-sized model. In recent years, companies such as Disney have begun to embrace diversity; in 2009, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog became the first African-American Disney princess. 

It's good to see the media tackling issues that are relevant to our world today because it is through mass media that our mindsets begin to change, as it influences our values. If models are of different shapes, sizes, races and looks, if violence is no longer glorified, if diversity is embraced, then the media will be influencing our world for the better. If the media begins to transmit positive messages, maybe the people who have negative self-images will begin to feel empowered. 

We can change the negativity that has plagued the media for so long if we just begin to question it. If we identify where it's going wrong, we can take measures to steer it back onto the right path and make a difference for the better. As Jim Morrison once said "whoever controls the media controls the mind."


the girl next door is evolving

On the 15th of September 2013, Nina Davuluri made history by becoming the first woman of Indian descent to win the Miss America title. Immediately after her victory, there was a backlash of racist comments on social media that has since been highly publicised. Thousands of tweets were published about how Miss America apparently "isn't American"and therefore shouldn't have won. In my opinion, this is highly unfair- Nina was born and brought up in the States and therefore qualifies for the competition. Just because she doesn't embody the image of a typical blonde and blue-eyed beauty does not mean that she didn't deserve to win. As Nina herself said, "Miss America is viewed as the girl next door, and she is always evolving."America, as a country, is a huge melting pot of different cultures and through Nina's win, it is evident that the Miss America pageant is celebrating this diversity. 

Nina Davuluri at the traditional dipping of toes in the Atlantic Ocean after the pageant. Source: Vancouver Sun.
As the media coverage of the negative messages on social media died down, another debate emerged. This time it was about whether or not Nina would have won the pageant back in the country of her origin: India. Why? Because her skin is too dark. Many Indian and South Asian writers have noted that you wouldn't be likely to see someone of Nina's skin colour in a pageant. Indian beauty queens, such as Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai are typically fair-skinned, because South Asian individuals often see light skin as being more beautiful. Back in 2003, when Miss India contestants were being prepped for the pageant, they had weekly sessions with a dermatologist. Each and every one of the women ended up taking some kind of medication to alter her skin.

This obsession with fairer skin drives a market of skin lightening products. India's whitening-cream market was valued at a whopping $432 million in 2010. Such products are hard to ignore- whenever I go to India, I always see several advertisements for different kinds of whitening products. These advertisements often feature a darker-skinned woman getting turned away from marriage or a job before the product appears, suggesting that by lightening her skin, all of her problems will magically disappear.

Yet there is a double standard involved here. While people in Asia are trying to lighten their skin, people in European countries are trying to darken it. Being in an international school which has eighty-three nationalities, I hear different people expressing different opinions regarding their skin tone. I have heard several Indian's complaining about how they're too dark, but I've also heard several people from Europe complaining about how their skin is too light and refuses to take on any colour. In the same way that South Asians use lightening products, Westerners use tanning products to give their skin a darker glow. What's even worse is that all of these products have major health risks: tanning beds expose skin to sharp UV rays that could cause skin cancer, while whitening creams can contain dangerous chemicals that cause hypertension and even some forms of cancer.

So what does this mean for us? Why do we expose ourselves to such dangerous health risks just to change our appearance? The skin colour debate is one that will continue across the world for a long time, but here's what I have to say about it. We should be comfortable just the way we are. If we are born with darker skin, so be it, and if we are born with super pale skin, so be it. I'm originally Indian, but was born and brought up in New Zealand, so when I was little, I was always surrounded by people who had fairer skin than I did. Now in Dubai, I'm surrounded by people who all have different skin tones. I think that no matter where you are, you should be comfortable in your own skin. As Steve Maraboli said: "There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”

PS: If you don't love Nina yet, you should read this. Congratulations Nina! You're an inspiration to us all. 


be a first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of anybody else

Hello blogging world! Since my last post, something very significant has happened. Summer has ended and alas, I have gone back to school. I'm in Year 12 now and have started my first year of the IB Diploma. So if you don't hear from me for a long time, it's probably because I'm drowning in an ocean of homework/exam preparation/IA's. If you're also starting IB, drop by the comments section and join the IB Bloggers Support Group! We should actually make that a real thing- maybe we could get CAS for it.

Anyway, enough with all of the IB jargon and onto the actual topic of this post.

After three months spent in the company of only our family and our close friends, we've all been ushered back into a group of hundreds of people around our age. With so many people around, it can be more difficult to be yourself. As teenagers, we're still struggling to find out who we really are and sometimes when we're in large groups of our peers, we find it easier to simply follow the crowd instead of being our own person. Why? Well, there's probably some long, complicated psychological reason, but I've only been taking psych for a week, so I don't know about that yet. I'll get back to you. But in my understanding, I think it's because we don't want to attract unwanted attention. We think that doing what everyone else is doing is "cool" and the right thing to do, when really, it probably isn't.

A good example to use has to do with fashion. A lot of people read fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle religiously, keeping track with the latest styles. There's nothing wrong with this. It does become a problem, however, when people choose to follow fashion blindly. They think that if they wear what they see models wearing in magazines, they will instantly look as good as said model and become as successful. Most of the time, this isn't true- the clothes or styles may not even suit them. Everyone looks different- we all have different body types, different faces and different hair colours. As mentioned in an excellent article by Victoria Lewis in a 2012 issue of Teen Vogue, just because you wear designer clothes does not mean that you look good. It's about how you put things together.

If you follow fashion blindly, chances are that you'll just end up looking like everyone else. In my opinion, it's far better to establish your own style. This could take anywhere from a few days, to a few months to a few years as it involves a lot of experimenting. But by creating your own unique style, you will be wearing what you look good in and what you feel comfortable in, instead of just wearing what everyone else is wearing. Think of style icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Madonna and Tavi Gevinson. They didn't follow a particular set of rules- instead they wore what they knew suited them without really caring about what other people think.

I almost burst out crying, this picture is so beautiful.
Moving away from fashion and back into a general idea of things, we can see that it's a lot better to be yourself rather than following everyone else. Why should you change yourself to fit someone else's idea of 'cool' or 'normal'? To repeat a common phrase, you are unique and no one can take that away from you. Throughout history there have always been people who chose to break away from the pack and stick to their own ideas and beliefs, no matter how much they may have been ridiculed at the time, and those are the people who have been extremely successful. For example, in school, Bill Gates was considered to be 'the nerdy kid' and look at where he is today. A more historical example would be Vincent Van Gogh, who kept painting even though his artwork went unappreciated until after he died. Several famous figures whom we look up to today are those who refused to change themselves.

When you are yourself, it's likely that other people will slowly start to follow you. Be a leader, instead of a follower. As Oscar Wilde said: "be yourself; everybody else is already taken."


they click their heels, spread their wings, and fly.

In one of my previous posts,"once you label me, you negate me", I talked about how the media is still filled with a lot of negative sexism. For example, women are overtly sexualised in order to sell products, and models are often airbrushed to look perfect on the front cover of a magazine. However I mentioned that there are some incredibly strong female characters in fiction. Yet re-reading that post, I realised that I only talked about characters in television shows. There are some amazing, incredibly strong female characters in literature, and it is time to recognise them. I've put together a list of seven of the most powerful female characters in literature who continue to inspire me and several others with their phenomenal brilliance and strength of character.

Screenshot from Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Left is Beatrice, right is Hero.
1. Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing
If you have been reading this blog for a while now, you will know that Much Ado About Nothing is my favourite play ever. We read it in Year 10 at school and most of us ended up loving the play. Recently, Joss Whedon released a new movie adaptation of it. If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend it. Who doesn’t love a story full of love, trickery and thousands of clever insults? Much Ado has all of that and more – and that might just be why we love it so much. 

But part of the reason that the play appeals so greatly to the modern audience lies in the characters. Beatrice, the female lead is widely considered to be one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters. (she certainly is the sassiest). Much to the chagrin of her father, she refuses to marry, having not found the perfect man, and also because she does not want to eschew her freedom. When Claudio falsely accuses Hero at the wedding in Act 4 Scene 1, Beatrice explodes with anger and stands firmly by her cousins' side. After this event, she rebels against the mistreatment and unequal status of women in the society at that time. One of my favourite Beatrice lines is "oh that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace!"

Hermione in 'The Goblet of Fire' 
2. Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter series.
If you have not read Harry Potter, you have not lived. Ever since I first read the books several years ago, I have always loved Hermione's character. Sure, she may have started out as an irritating, know-it-all, eleven-year-old (it''s leviosa, not leviosar), but Hermione's character quickly matured. She continues to amaze us with her ability to maintain a clear mind, even in the most tense of situations. Her intelligence is her greatest strength, and although she can be a bit of an overachiever at times (like when she got an 'Exceeds Expectations' in her Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. and was upset about it), she always manages to use her knowledge to save her friends. 

3. Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Not only is this powerful female protagonist an incredible computer hacker with a photographic memory, she also survived an abusive childhood. She’s a resilient character, who does not rely on anyone for anything and does not want to rely on anyone.

Screenshot from 'The Help'
4. Skeeter Phelan, The Help.
Actually, almost every female character from The Help, with the exception of Miss Elizabeth and Miss Hilly Holbrook, is seriously strong. They should all be on this list. But Skeeter stands out to me, because of the risks she takes by writing The Help. She wants to make a difference and she doesn't care what other people are going to think of her. Plus, she's independent- she thinks for herself, and makes her own decisions. She even goes to college, even though her mother is sure that it will ruin her chances of getting a good husband. Because, obviously, a man wouldn't want to marry a woman who is smarter than him.

5. Kira Walker, the Partials trilogy.
Partials is a relatively new series- the first book came out last year, and the second book came out in March. If you haven't read it yet (and a lot of people haven't), then you should. The book is set 11 years after the Partial War, in which engineered organic beings identical to humans released a virus called RM that decimated almost the entire human race. A group of survivors have regrouped on Long Island, while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. However, the survivors cannot have children, as no child born is immune to RM, and they have yet to find a cure. 

Kira is a medical intern, and when her best friend Madison falls pregnant, she decides that she has to find a cure for RM, no matter what it takes so that Maddie's baby survives. This includes a series of very dangerous, illegal journeys to find a Partial to study. Her determination and loyalty to her friends is admirable, and she's not afraid to break the rules to do something that she knows is right. Throughout the course of the series, she uncovers some shocking secrets about herself and those around her. She will go great lengths to find out the truth. 

A still from 'The Hunger Games'
6. Katniss Everdeen, the Hunger Games.
 Katniss is a pretty strong character overall. After her father's death, she becomes the sole caretaker of her family, hunting in the forest at the back of District 12, and trading food on the black market. She is brave enough to volunteer to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games- something that must have frightened her to no end, considering that she knew that she would either have to kill others or die. Plus, her ability to shoot an arrow doesn’t hurt.

7. Cassandra, Agamemnon

Although Cassandra has a very small role in the play as a whole, she is very important. She is the first to recall the past crimes committed in the house of Atreus. Furthermore, she is the one who sets the scene for the end of Agamemnon, as well as the next play in the Orestia, Libation Bearers. She does this by foreseeing her own death, and Agamemnon’s death, as well as the vengeance that Agamemnon’s son, Orestes will take against Clytmnestra.

Cassandra has the ability to see the future, but has been cursed by Apollo so that no one will believe her. She foresaw the fall of Troy and the death of those around her, but was unable to do anything about it because people believed that she was crazy. Her gift caused her endless anger and frustration. When she was brought to Argos by Agamemnon, she saw her own death. Although shaken and scared, she understood that she could not escape it, and summoned all of her strength to face death bravely.

So there you have it. If there's a character that you really admire who hasn't been mentioned here, please add her on in the comments! As Stana Katic said: "I don't believe in weak women. I think women in general are pretty powerful."